How to Avoid “Torch Flame Overkill”

You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

- Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) in To Have and Have Not

using cigar torch lightersA while back I blogged about cigar lighting techniques. In the article, I referred to one of the methods as “The ‘Overkill’.” “…using this method, the smoker keeps hitting the blackened areas of the foot with the torch flame until they glow like a branding iron. All this does is cause the tobacco to produce more tars, which may turn the cigar prematurely bitter,” I wrote.

As a cigar smoker, one thing you need to remember when using torch lighters is that the flame is highly concentrated. Moreover, the reason torch lighters are so effective is that the blue inner cone (about 1/16 of an inch inside the flame), is the hottest part of the flame, and therefore, much hotter than the white flame of a match or “soft flame” lighter. That’s also why you should be even more careful when toasting your cigars.*

The secret to properly toasting good premium cigars is to hold the flame from a torch lighter just shy of the tobacco until it turns black. You want to do the same during the lighting stage, until you see the core tobaccos glowing. Note that you may only see a portion of the core glowing. At this point you would normally blow gently on the foot to spread the fire throughout the entire width of the foot.

Here’s where the torch flame overkill usually comes in. If after blowing on the cigar, the remaining core doesn’t catch quickly, many a cigar smoker will hit it again and even hold it until they get the aforementioned “branding iron” effect.

The reason not all of the tobaccos take right away usually has to do with the amount of moisture in the tobaccos, and/or how much ligero is in the mix. Ligero is the oiliest of the leaves and it’s one of the reasons the more combustible binder leaves are part of the blend; they help get your cigars started and keep them burning evenly. Therefore, if you absolutely have to hit it again, you may be better off concentrating on the ring where the binder is, just inside the outer wrapper leaf.

Suffice it to say that, rather than holding the foot to the fire (so to speak),
continue blowing on it. If it’s a well-made cigar, eventually the entire core will take. You don’t need more flame; what you need is more patience.


* Author’s note: When I first published this blog, I incorrectly stated that the white part of the flame from torch lighters was the hottest.

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  1. William Carrington says:

    Thank you. Been into cigars for about 2 yrs. and have never been good at lighting them. This was sooo helpful.

  2. Gary Korb says:

    You’re welcome William.
    Happy smokes,
    ~ G.K

  3. Edward Krueger says:

    You got the color thing completely backwards. The blue part of the flame is the hottest, not the coolest. The blue part have the temperature of about 17000 kelvin, while the top part of the flame can be as cool as 10000 kelvin. Notice that welding torches burn blue and are really hot.

  4. Gary Korb says:

    I have to admit, Mr. Krueger is correct; therefore, I owe the readers an apology.

    I spoke to a good friend of mine, an engineer, who is a civilian lab tech for the U.S. Army. I figured if anyone would know, it would be him. Here’s what he replied to my email: “About 1/16th off the very top tip of the blue flame is the hottest. More specifically, the tip of the inner, darker blue cone is the hottest part of the flame.”

    I was sure I had read that the white tip of the flame was the hottest, and it seemed to make sense, but that author could have been wrong, too. Therefore, I will update this blog with the correct information.

    Your humbled cigar advisor,

  5. Gary Korb says:

    Sure. I’ll follow-up with you via your email address.

  6. Andre says:

    What? No video of the proper technique?

  7. Gary Korb says:

    To Andre: Thanks for the suggestion. Although I am planning on doing a series of “How to” videos, there are tons of these type of videos on YouTube you can view ion this.

  8. Dan says:

    Very nice article. I am bad about going back and hitting it again with the flame. Thanks for correcting me.

  9. Gary Korb says:

    No problem, Dan. There are still times when I overdo it, too; usually when I’m in a rush, which you shouldn’t be when smoking cigars…and so it goes. ;-)

  10. Michael says:

    This has helped me tremendously, but I still have a question. How relevant is the cut to an even burn? I’ve been getting a lot of uneven burns lately and all I can come up with is it is either my cut or the rolling off of my ashes.

  11. Gary Korb says:

    Hi Michael,
    Make sure you have plenty of cap exposed at the head without chopping off the shoulders. Most better cigars, you can literally “POP” the cap off as you squeeze the cutter blades, especially if they’re triple capped. You want a good draw. Also, rotate the cigar in your fingers after each puff, especially if you’re smoking outside. Finally, if you’ve done all of the above, it could be a problem with the humidity level in your humidor. Make sure you rotate your cigars from bottom to top about every 6 weeks or so, and have good airflow in your humidor. Don’t pack the cigars too tightly. It’s a humidor, not a factory box. ;-)